Organize Before You Archive

To prepare for the move to our new office space, the entire Henninger team was enlisted to help clean out the old space. It was a MASSIVE undertaking. We’d occupied over 30,000 square feet of space for nearly 25 years. One of the major projects that needed to be tackled was determining what should be kept and what could be purged from an old tape library. That task fell to me. I’d visited this library occasionally over the years, but as I inspected it knowing that I’d been tasked with cleaning out every square inch, I was overwhelmed. How on earth was I going to figure out what to keep and what to toss? If anything will make you a believer in our new “tapeless” world, it’s facing down a dusty library full of old tapes. I needed a plan. What might be important to us in 1, 5 or 10 years? Out of thousands of old tapes and other materials, which had value to our organization?

A lot of our clients are struggling with the same basic issue: how do you determine what is worth archiving and what you can you simply store or get rid of entirely? Every organization’s rules for this are going to be different. Some may have a lot of storage space and some, like us, may be looking to cut down on the amount of space old materials occupy. Archiving an entire library of materials is a potentially expensive endeavor. If you can define your most valuable assets and focus your archiving efforts (and dollars) on those assets first, you can turn a seemingly overwhelming project into a manageable and affordable one.

Catalog EVERYTHING
This was one of the most time-consuming and tedious things I’ve ever done but the value of doing it can’t be understated. I went through every shelf, every cart and every box and wrote down what we had. I put all of that information in a spreadsheet that was sortable, which turned out to be a lifesaver. The spreadsheet was pretty simple. It included the following columns:

  • Client
  • Project Name
  • Description of the Asset
  • Location
  • Suggestion

Whenever possible, I included whatever information I had about the tape from it’s label in my “Description” column. This took a long time, but it turned out to be a good decision when later I needed to determine what to keep and what to get rid of.

I also included a “Suggestion” column so that as I looked through everything, I could record my thoughts on what we should do with the asset. Some things could obviously be purged. Work tapes, damaged tapes and tapes that were obviously lower-resolution copies of other tapes were easy to purge. As I went through the collection I also realized that there were tapes from one project spread out in different places. This process allowed me to consolidate things and know that I was choosing only the best/newest/highest resolution masters to keep.

Once I’d gone through everything we had, I was able to sort my spreadsheet by client and easily move through the library, finding and packaging up all of their materials at once. This is where recording the physical location of each asset came in handy.

As you might expect, this spreadsheet grew to be quite enormous. I was sure to save it regularly (usually by date) and email copies to colleagues are regular intervals so that if something happened to one version of it, I would have previously saved versions to work with.

Determine What’s Valuable to Your Organization
For a lot of organizations, this might be the most difficult part of the process. Ultimately, we made the decision to keep only the most recently dated, highest resolution seamless masters. This is where all of that description information came in handy. A lot of tape labels contained information about a tape’s audio configuration or included handwritten notes like “revised with new credits on XX date.” This information helped me determine the best assets to keep.

Take the age of your materials into account as well. For us, the age of the tapes wasn’t really an issue but I have clients choosing to archive film materials regularly with the fear that the film may disintegrate.

Make Recommendations
Once I’d cataloged everything and determined what was important to our organization, I sorted my spreadsheet by client and project, put together boxes of client materials for return and then recorded my recommendations for the rest of the tapes. Once we had a plan for each and every tape in the library, we were able to start returning and purging materials.

Divide and Conquer
This was the fun part. Getting rid of tons of old tapes felt amazing. So too did returning tapes to clients and boxing up what was left. We ultimately condensed a crowded 1,000 square foot library into 12 banker’s boxes and one shelf in our new library. By updating the “recommendation” column in my massive spreadsheet to reflect what we’d kept and what we’d gotten rid of, if anyone ever asks about an obscure old tape, I can always search the spreadsheet and find out quickly whether it was purged or not.

Many organizations might find themselves with three asset categories after a cleanup effort like this: things to archive, things to keep (but which are not worth spending the money to archive) and things to purge. By creating a list of things to be archived in order of priority, can arm yourself with a great tool for figuring out a workable schedule and budget for archiving. Instead of looking at endless boxes and shelves of tapes that MIGHT need to be archived and feeling overwhelmed, you’ll know exactly what MUST be archived. We’re happy to talk to clients about their assets, their organization’s goals and what they might want to archive. Sometimes simply talking to an outside party can help a plan of action come together. We can help digitize a wide variety of tape and film formats and can provide a number of digital file storage options depending upon whether the goal is long term archiving, editing or both.

Sue O’Hora is Henninger Media Services’ staff Producer. When not busy working on production projects, she can be found reading about television, writing about it or discussing it with friends. You can learn more about Sue at www.videobysue.com, follow her on Twitter @SueOHora and contact her at sohora@henninger.com.